Category Archives: Comics

Built To Spill: The Ballad Of Scott Pilgrim

ONE TWO THREE FOUR!!!

The year is 1994. I’m sitting in someone’s basement with about thirty other people. Three bands you’ve probably never heard of are playing: Brainiac, Lazy and Honeyburn. Even sixteen years later, I’ll be hard pressed to think any bands now that were better than they were then. But that’s the way music works. When it’s landing, hitting you at the right time and the right place, it’s not hard for you to figure that no experience before or since will ever be as good, or feel like this.

While the eponymous protagonist of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series (which just ended this week with its sixth volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour) spends more time making music than sitting back wth a dixie cup of beer and listening to it, you get the sense that that kind of appreciation of those moments has always been a huge influence on the work.

Scott Pilgrim gets a lot of attention for its use and adoration of video game tropes and visuals, but just as potent (if not more so) is the influence of music on the work, specifically the music that Bryan Lee O’Malley undoubtedly listened to for most of his young adult life. (Also backed up by his helpful list of the stuff he was listening to while working on printed in the back of several of the volumes.) One of Pilgrim’s trademark shirts is built out of the Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins logo (and several chapters and even one of the volumes derive their names from Pumpkins songs), Ramona Flowers got her name from a Flying Burrito Brothers song, and I’d be willing to bet that the pivotal and strange physio-psychic phenomenon “The Glow” is based on that fantastic song by The Microphones.

Ramona!

But hey. Scott plays bass, so none of this should really come as a surprise. What is surprising and interesting is how the entire Scott Pilgrim saga works in the same way as that kind of small and intimate show you fold yourself into in the bottom of some record store owner’s house. O’Malley’s voice has always been one so authentic and funny that you find yourself looking over your shoulder wondering if anyone else just got that reference to a mythril skateboard. And emotionally it hits the same beats that any good show would. You have the fast parts that make you want to punch your friend in the shoulder, and the slow parts that make you think about your old girlfriends. But most of all, you feel the connection of someone working their ass off to entertain you and doing it in a way that feels so relevant to your experience that it couldn’t have been directed at anyone else but you.

Scott Pilgrim has always felt like one of those works. As scattered, touchstone-wise, as the past twenty years of pop culture that inspired it, there’s a reason why throngs of people across two countries flooded dozens of Midnight Release parties to pick up the final volume Monday night. It simply resonates.

One of the key aspects of Pilgrim’s story is how the most mundane things; a trip to the mall, meeting an ex’s father; can explode into the most epic action set-piece. It’s no surprise that this is the perfect fit for a culture that’s so intent on grand-scaling every aspect of their lives. It’s not just a night at the movies it’s a “DUDE, YOU SO WOULD NOT BELIEVE THE NIGHT I HAD.” And like four guys from Idaho building 10 minute rock songs out of a couple of guitars and a drum kit, or a kid from Chicago who can only express himself through arena rock fantasy, or any band you’ve never heard of playing their hearts out next to a keg of beer; Bryan Lee O’Malley just built his own six volume epic out of whatever he could find.

The End

Anna Reads Manga: New Sci-Fi Manga

Anna Reads Manga

While there are plenty of manga about robots or dystopian futures, it doesn’t seem to me like there are many old-fashioned men in space science fiction manga available in English. The first volumes for two recent series dealing with life in space have recently been published, so today I’ll take a look at Vertical’s Twin Spica and Viz’s Saturn Apartments. I think both series would appeal to science fiction fans, but I found one charming and the other left me cold.

Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma

Tiny thirteen year old Asumi’s greatest wish is to go into space, but she hasn’t told her father that she’s applied to Tokyo Space School. Space exploration has been overshadowed by a horrible accident that took place when Asumi was just a baby – the explosion of the first Japanese-made spaceship nicknamed “The Lion.” Asumi also has a companion – an imaginary friend or a ghost, who has a human body and the head of a lion. As Asumi walks through her town Mr. Lion provides a sounding board as she works through her decision to follow her dream. Mr Lion pokes her back, she chases him, and they both pause to look at an airplane climbing into the sky. Asumi’s father is upset when he finds out about her application, not because she wants to go into space but because she didn’t confide in him. As long as he has the ticket for a “Free ride on Asumi’s rocket” she made for him when she was a child, he’ll support her ambition. The first chapter of the book has a great deal of emotional catharsis, which made me instantly warm to Asumi and want to read more of her adventures.

Asumi does manage to get into space school despite her small physique and she and her classmates are thrown into an intricate test. They have to live in a sealed room for a week with two other classmates, setting up dominoes in an intricate pattern. Asumi’s new roommates are the open and enthusiastic Kei and the angry bacteriaphobe Marika. Asumi initially adapts to her test with ease, thinking “Mr. Lion said that the most important qualities an astronaut needs are perseverance and a cooperative personality.” Asumi’s powers of observation allow her to reveal a hidden message about the test. But a change in the test conditions causes Asumi to confront her memories of the crash of “The Lion” and her feelings towards her dead mother. Asumi’s companions have to come together to ensure that the entire group doesn’t wash out of space school. As Asumi works through her memories, Twin Spica ceases to be just a slice-of-life science fiction story and becomes infused with magical realism as Asumi meets Mr. Lion for the first time and comes to terms with her mother’s death.

Yaginuma’s character designs invoke a feeling of nostalgia. His art looks more like something from a manga series of the ’60s or ’70s, with gentle rounded faces and simple background designs. The art is simple, but all the essential elements to portray the character’s emotions are in place. The artistic elements in the manga are carefully considered. Yaginuma’s forays into magical realism work because his characters are so grounded in the world he creates. Mr Lion interacts with the parks and streets Asumi passes through. The flashback to Asumi’s childhood features more hand drawn cross-hatching and less grey tone, which sets it apart from the present day story.

Twin Spica is very much a first volume. The story and heroine’s situation is set up and hopefully her world will be explored more in the future. While there was plenty of depth to Asumi’s emotional journey in this volume, her classmates were only just introduced. I’m looking forward to seeing how Asumi approaches the rest of her time in space school. While she might be tiny, Asumi has the type of mental toughness that can only be achieved from dealing with tragedy. I’m curious to see what type of astronaut she’ll become, and I’m wondering if she’ll ever need to say goodbye to the faithful Mr. Lion. The simple art and childlike main character in Twin Spica might not appeal to the casual adult reader. But this series is seinen manga (originally published in a magazine for men) and has levels of symbolism and emotional complexity that I think only more mature readers would appreciate.

There’s a preview of Twin Spica available on the Vertical website.

Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka

Reading Saturn Apartments was an exercise in frustration for me. An accomplished pie maker could offer me some key lime pie, and it might be an awesome pie to many people but I think key lime is horrible. Saturn Apartments is the manga equivalent of key lime pie for me. I know many people might like it, but I’d rather take a pass and have some cheese danish. Yummy yummy cheese danish….

In the future humanity has left Earth, which functions as a planet-sized game preserve. Humans live in a giant ring that circles the Earth in a highly stratified society. People have to pay window cleaners in order to get a decent view of their home planet. The wealthy on the upper levels have sky and sunlight, while the people in the lower levels exist in a dingy world. A young window cleaner named Mitsu is about to join his father’s old crew. His father mysteriously disappeared while out on a cleaning job, but did he suffer an accident or was he murdered? Mitsu decides to use his new job to find out more about his father, and on his first day he’s sent out to clean the area where his father had the accident. Mitsu sees evidence that his father struggled to live when he finds hand prints and a fabric fragment caught in the outside surface of the ring.

Saturn Apartments is episodic by nature. There isn’t an overarching plot holding things together as Mitsu learns more about the class differences in his world, meets his father’s old friends, and learns how to be a good window cleaner. Perhaps because of the general “just another day cleaning Earth’s space ring” atmosphere that pervaded the book, I never felt much urgency even when Mitsu was menaced by a co-worker. Mitsu’s reaction to finding the site of his father’s accident is to think “Someday I’d like to find the spot down there where Dad landed. Mitsu’s father is referred to obliquely in the rest of the book, but I was expecting more of a narrative payoff that never happened.

Iwaoka has a unique style of art. I enjoyed her detailed backgrounds which did a great job detailing the run-down ring circling the Earth where the humans live. Mitsu and his co-workers live in ordinary rooms and the occasional shots of the grid lines in their artificial sky and the presence of the Earth below did effectively evoke the feeling of a space colony where people have been living for years. What I found least attractive about the illustrations were the character designs. Iwaoka gives all her characters the body proportions of young children which made her portrayals of elderly people seem jarring and surreal. Character faces are almost entirely flat, even in profile. The facial features look pinched and doll-like, which gave me a feeling of distance from the work even when I was reading about someone’s emotional pain or watching Mitsu’s gruff co-worker Jin mid-outburst.

Putting down Saturn Apartments after reading it I was left with a cold, clinical feeling. I didn’t care to read more of Mitsu’s story simply because he just seems to be experiencing life without much direction or ambition. Mitsu has tendencies towards internal soliloquies that I found a bit annoying. He thinks “I thought, if I can try as hard as Dad did, if I can do the job like he did, than I should discover someting.” There’s no indication at the end of the volume that Mitsu is much further along in discovering anything at all, and the journey to get to the conclusion of his narrative just seems tedious to me. Someone who finds Iwaoka’s artistic style and meandering storyline more appealing might enjoy Saturn Apartments very much, but I won’t be reading further in this series..

A preview of Saturn Apartments is available on the Sigikki website.

News for Nerds: What Do We Deserve?

I read a lot of stuff on the Internet.

In fact, with the exception of the free daily tab I get every morning on the way to work and books, nearly everything I read is online. Along with the day-to-day news, some opinion pieces from people I like and weird stuff my friends send me through links, I read a whole bunch of sites that deal in, for lack of a better term, nerd news: coverage of stuff like video games, comics, TV shows like Doctor Who and LOST, movie and music snobbery, and so forth.

I enjoy reading most of that material (otherwise it would be pretty stupid to spend my time on it, right?) and think a lot of it has value, but I can’t help but notice its largest deficiency, which is nearly universal. On most of these sites, it is impossible to find what I might call the basis of real journalism: Reportage.

There’s plenty of stuff masquerading as reporting, but very little of it is genuine, shoe-leather journalism. (Though there is some real reportage going on in some corners of the web, like this recent example.) It’s other things. Not all of which are without merit, by the way. Still, I see five areas where these sites could do a lot better.

1. Commentary is not reportage.

When you read a comics news site or a gaming blog, what you’re getting, by and large, is commentary. Whether it’s a column by a staff writer or a guest piece by an industry insider, it’s often one person’s opinion about some trend or a particularly momentous event or whatever else that person finds interesting that day.

And that’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with commentary whatsoever. There’s a reason newspapers have had opinion pages since time immemorial. People want to know what informed commentators think about important topics. But here’s the thing: Without smart, tough reporting to inform commentators, opinion pieces often end up being about topics that just aren’t that interesting. Or at the very least, they’re about topics that could be enriched through a little investigation. Call it Feature Column Syndrome. (And yes, I am fully aware that I am making these points in an online commentary piece.)

Hell, the best and most-read newspaper columns are sourced, just like news stories. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

2. A press release isn’t a story.

My biggest complaint about most online nerd-news sites is their unyielding and infuriating habit of posting a press release wholesale, with “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” and all, and calling that a news story. It ain’t.

At most, you should use a press release as the basis for a lead, maybe a quote or two. But it can’t be the whole story, else you become nothing but a mouthpiece for your corporate sources. Which is great for those sources, but is a pretty terrible disservice to your readers, especially when you don’t even bother to label those posts as press releases in your headline. The practice makes you a PR clearinghouse, not a news agency.

The bare minimum for a worthwhile story is to call someone and at least ask if what’s announced in a press release is important. Or why anybody should care. Or if it’s really going to be terrible and that nobody should care. Something other than just to say that something new is going to occupy a shelf in a couple months.

Maybe the biggest problem is that a lot of sites and their proprietors don’t care about breaking real news or questioning the companies that send out releases. They’re OK being the mouthpiece. They just want to be liked, and they dig being able to talk to important people, who, oh boy, know their names. Good for them, but I don’t see that as a very good reason to call yourself a journalist.

3. Rumors aren’t news.

And they should never be presented in the same context as news.

I know, it’s partially the nature of the beast. Blogs don’t really allow for separate rumor pages. Every post just goes into a feed that pops up in a page with a set template. And there’s more competition to get the story now now now now even if it isn’t confirmed. But, honestly, that’s no excuse.

If you’re going to report rumors (and there are plenty of regular old mainstream news outlets and political blogs that do the same thing), separate them somehow. Label them. Throw them all into one big post that clearly categorizes them as rumors. And, if they’re too dangerous – that is, they could be considered libelous, they could cause huge problems for a relatively innocent victim or you reporting it might make you a target – don’t report them.

And hey, why not do a little verification and try to confirm those rumors? You may not be the first one to get the story, but you’ll be the first one to get it on the record from a real, named source. That gives you credibility, and saves you the embarrassment of having to retract something after you post some unsubstantiated nonsense. Plus, if you do get something wrong, and others can prove that you’re wrong, how about owning up to it? Posting a correction? Doing anything other than just saying “oh well” and moving on, or worse yet, maintaining that you’re still right?

You know, professionalism.

4. Q&As aren’t stories, either.

I like reading Q&A pieces. If the subject is someone I find particularly interesting, I can get a lot out of them, especially if the questions are focused, well-researched and incisive.

But they aren’t news stories. Essentially, they’re just variations on commentary pieces, just with prompts from an interviewer to get one person’s point of view. They are one-source pieces.

Sometimes, those are worthwhile. If someone’s at the center of some big event or can offer perspective on a larger trend, a Q&A serves a needed function. But even then, it’s within the context of a bigger, ongoing story. Perhaps they serve a different purpose in entertainment journalism, as they tend to be one of the biggest building blocks of that arena. The good ones get inside the mind of an artist, show a bit of his or her process and maybe give some idea of how he or she views the world, in a way that’s not obvious in his or her art. And that’s great. But to describe a Q&A, even a good one, as a news interview is something of a mischaracterization.

Which brings us to…

5. Sources, research and background are the basis of news reporting.

Let’s say a particular video game didn’t sell as expected. What does that mean for the developer who designed it? Get a comment. What about the distributor? Call them. What about other developers that make games in the same genre? Talk to them, too. Is this a change from the sales figures of similar games? Find out. Does it mean something for the industry as a whole? Ask an expert.

That sounds hard, right? Who are you even going to call? And when you do, will those sources say anything even remotely worthwhile? For a while, they probably won’t. But the more you talk to them, the more they hear from you and get used to your voice, the more they’ll loosen up.

It’s regular old source development. And yeah, everybody within a given industry is on some company’s dime. And they have reasons not to talk. But they might have reasons to talk, too. There’s no reason a comic book creator shouldn’t be able to give you a quote just like a government department head can. They both know the risks. And government wonks and business insiders have been talking to the press for decades.

But you have to ask.

Of course, the big dangling question here is whether anyone will care enough to read reportage on the comic book industry or game makers or other nerdy pursuits, and whether the return is worth the cost. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe people are satisfied with only commentary pieces, press releases and rumors populating their RSS feeds. Maybe those things aren’t as important as politics or the stuff that’s on the business page or the celebrities that pop up in the lifestyle section.

But a lot of people feel a lot of passion for these topics. They even devote their whole lives and careers to them. And many want their passions to be taken seriously as valid ways to spend one’s time. Shouldn’t, then, the people who gather and report information about those topics treat them that way, too?

Anna Reads Manga: Online Manga

Online manga can be a little difficult to track down if you are trying to avoid the many sites that exist to host scanlations (fan translations), or in the most egregious cases, hosting scans of the American manga editions. Fortunately in recent months more American publishers are putting manga online for free sampling or to make it easy to subscribe for electronic access. I’ll give an overview of some of the places you can go to read manga online legally.

FREE ONLINE MANGA

Viz Media caused a stir when it started serializing manga chapters on its sites Shonen Sunday and Sigikki. This is the place to go if you are looking for quirky seinen manga, as the parent Japanese magazine Ikki tends to specialize in the obscure. There’s a wide variety of stories and art styles on display. Chapters gradually rotate off the site as the print volumes are published.

Here are capsule reviews of my three favorite Sigikki series:

Afterschool Charisma – This series takes place in a school filled with clones of famous people from history. Napolean seems to be in the middle of a growth spurt, Mozart is an arrogant jerk, Marie Curie wants to play the piano instead of studying radium, and Freud is a creepy teen with a pageboy haircut. The ordinary boy Shiro Kamiya, whose father is in charge of the school and the cloning project, attends school along with the clones. Shiro innocently asks his father to help Marie with her musical ambitions, but what happens to her is not what Shiro intended. Will Shiro find out the truth behind the school? The art in Afterschool Charisma looked the most shoujoish to me out of all the Siggiki series. Sometimes it was difficult to tell apart the female characters, but the male characters were a bit more individual and had more personality. Teen-clone-Freud is hilarious.

House of Five Leaves – Masanosuke is a poor masterless samurai with a personality defect: He falls apart when he attracts attention. Thus he does a poor job of acting intimidating and keeps getting fired from his bodyguard jobs. Yaichi hires him for a day’ work. Masanosuke is struck by Yaichi’s confident air. But it turns out that Yaichi is a member of the criminal group the House of Five Leaves. Will Masanosuke continue to work for kidnappers in the hopes that Yaichi’s calm demeanor will wear off on him? I enjoyed the art of this series, as Ono has a loose and fluid style of drawing which serves to highlight Masanosuke’s defeated body language and his eyes, which look hollow eyes of someone who isn’t eating very well. Most samurai stories feature a main character who is more of a traditional bad-ass type, so I thought this twist on the genre was interesting.

Children of the Sea
Children of the Sea is as beautiful, deep, and mysterious as the ocean that the characters inhabit. Ruka is a young girl who gets in trouble at school for violently retaliating against a teammate at sports practice. She decides not to go home and goes on a quest to see the ocean. She travels to Tokyo at night and reaches an ocean view. A mysterious boy makes the pronouncement “The sea in Tokyo is kinda like a broken toy” and leaps over her into the sea. Ruka runs down to rescue him. Umi was raised in the ocean along with another boy named Sora by dugongs. They maintain their connection to the sea, and their skin becomes unbearably dry if they aren’t submerged in water very long.

Mysterious ocean animal disappearances have started to plague scientists. Animals seem to become spotted with light before they vanish like ghosts. Ruka’s father works in an aquarium where Umi often hangs out. As Ruka tries to escape her troubles in school she spends more and more time in the aquarium, meeting Umi and Sora’s foster father Jim. He’s a foreigner with mystical tattoos who loves to surf. Sora is sickly and spends a lot of time in the hospital. He’s suspicious of Ruka even though Umi says that she “smells like them.” Ruka sees Umi and Sora occasionally glowing with the unearthly light that the ocean ghosts emit. Are they going to be the next to disappear?

Shonen Sunday is a companion online manga site aimed at the younger set. Viz uses it to serialize new series like Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne and Yuu Watase’s Arata, but it also serves as a way to sample some of Viz’s lesser known backlist titles like the excellent monster hunting series Kekkaishi.

Kekkaishi
– The hero of the story is Yoshimori. He’s young and weak and struggles with his training to become the successor to his family’s long-standing demon hunting tradition. His secret friend is the older girl next door Tokine, who belongs to a rival demon-hunting clan. Both Yoshimori and Tokine are aided in their demon hunts by demon dog sidekicks, who provide comic relief and guidance. Yoshimori isn’t very savvy about hunting demons. Tokine saves him and is injured in the process.

The story picks up again when Yoshimori is 14 and Tokine is 16. She criticizes his lack of refinement when demon hunting and counsels him to save his power. He doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt in front of him anymore and is determined to become a better fighter. Their school is conveniently located above a reservoir of power and at night they pursue the hunt. The manga blends action and humor as Yoshimori tries to fulfill his cherished ambition of making the perfect cake and dodges his grandfather’s training attempts. There are darker forces at work behind the sacred site that Yoshimori is sworn to protect. The story lines and character development are more complex than a typical fighting manga, which makes for a rewarding reading experience for those who like manga with a little bit of monster fighting and slapstick comedy.

Other major manga publishers like Tokyopop and CMX do tend to put up sample chapters of their manga, but I think Viz’s decision to set up separate online magazine sites with highlighted content gives their content greater prominence. I wish that in addition to the shonen and seinen sites Viz would put up an online magazine where readers could sample shoujo manga, especially after the demise of Shojo Beat magazine. Shonen Jump will soon be the only manga anthology magazine on the newsstands in the US. Yen Plus recently announced plans to discontinue their print magazine in favor of going digital instead. I think the next few years will hopefully give publishers a chance to experiment with digital manga magazines.

PAYING FOR MANGA ONLINE

This is an area where some of the smaller, more experimental publishers have more developed sites.

eManga

This is the online publishing arm of Digital Manga Publishing, which is probably best known for their yaoi titles, although back in the day they put out editions of some wonderfully weird stuff like Bambi and Her Pink Gun and Project X – Nissin Cup Noodle, a manga about the invention of noodles in a cup. While a casual reader might expect the titles on eManga to be only yaoi, there’s actually more variety there, with plenty of manga adaptations of harlequin romances and the shoujo classic Itazura Na Kiss. Reading manga there operates on a points system, where $10 will get you 1000 points, and online access to selected volumes may be priced anywhere between 200-400 points. If you follow digitalmanga on twitter, they’ll often give away free online access to selected volumes.

Netcomics

Netcomics is mainly a specialty publisher of Korean comics, or manhwa. They’ve used their online platform to publish American manga style comics and Japanese manga as well. Paying for manga on this site works on a chapter by chapter basis, with each chapter costing 25 cents. Single chapters from most titles are available for preview as well. Titles are sorted by genre, so it is easy to find series that might fit your mood, if you are looking for romance, comedy, or science fiction manhwa. Some of Netcomics’ titles that had print editions for the first few volumes have the later volumes only available online. I hate it when series are dropped, so while someone wanting to collect print copies of an entire series might be disappointed, it does seem like a good way of making slow-selling titles available to readers.

I can’t say that we’ve reached a level of mature development with the legal manga that’s available for readers. It would be nice if other publishers also followed Viz’s Sigikki model. But at least a handful of sites is available for fans who want to do the right thing and avoid scanlations. Hopefully the next few years will have more manga publishers experimenting with their online presence.

Free Comic Book Day Reviews

Free Comic Book Day was started in 2002, a joint effort between comics retailers and Diamond Comics, the largest distributor of comic books and graphic novels in North America. The stated goal is to increase public awareness of the comic book industry and comic book retailers by giving away free books, specially printed by participating publishers. A secondary goal, of course, is to piggy-back on the coverage of whatever super-hero inspired film is coming out that summer for some free publicity. This year, the event takes place on Saturday, May 1st, and a list of the participating retailers can be found on the official event site.

In a way, Free Comic Book Day is sort of like the comics industry’s job interview. Publishers put on their best suits and try to convince the public why they’re a better recipient for their entertainment dollars than any of the other guys. Some publishers try to appeal to a wide demographic of new and lapsed readers. Some use the opportunity to plug the same old stuff that the “have to get to the shop by six on Wednesday” buys to that very same crowd via shameless narrowcasting. And some just toss any old thing out there just to say that they participated.

Given these approaches to publishing the books, it’s helpful to take a similarly nuanced attitude towards the offerings available. Since every shop’s methods of distribution differ, we have chosen to adopt a three-tiered system for rating the books. Get It is for those books that represent the best of the best for both the event and the comic industry as a whole. It’s Free is for those books that are neither nothing to get excited about nor of poor enough quality to ignore. Leave It is for those comics that, well…the term we used should be description enough, but we’ll try to explain why we think you should avoid it.

Archie’s Summer Splash!: Archie comics get a lot of flack for being corny and old-fashioned. It’s not exactly an unfair criticism, although in recent years the publisher has started branching out with updated art styles, inter-racial dating, a forthcoming gay character and pop culture references from this decade. What we’ve got here is an unapologetic, and somewhat uninspired, children’s comic about wacky teenagers having family-friendly adventures. -Archie Comics
It’s Free

Artifacts #0: I’m not overly familiar with the continuity of the Witchblade comics universe. The best I’ve been able to figure is that it’s a world in which mystic artifacts that sound like a checklist of items for a scavenger hunt in a Dan Brown novel somehow compel people to fight in various stages of undress. There’s a checklist of these artifcats in here that functions as a monochromatic “Who’s Who” for people already familiar with the franchise, and there is a framing sequence of a green-haired woman in fetish gear that will probably entertain those who are interested in that sort of thing. But like most of the other super-hero books released this year, this is designed more as a bonus for the existing customer base, and not something for new readers. –Top Cow
It’s Free

Atomic Robo/Neozoic/Box 13: Of this trio of short stories, Atomic Robo is the best by far. It’s got wit, action and excellent art. Of the other two, I prefer the art and tone of Neozoic, which at least has several pages of action and giant dinosaurs. The package as a whole is good for a sampler, which is a fairly rare feat. –Red 5 Comics
It’s Free

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2010: The line of Simpsons comics are fairly reliable books for children. They’re just on the verge of being just edgy enough that kids can think they’re getting away with something by reading them, but innocuous and watered-down enough that parents are okay with their kids reading them. Which makes them, on the whole, better than most of what is out there for kids, but still fairly corny and dull for anyone else. –Bongo Comics
It’s Free

DC Kids: A sampler of super-hero comics featuring DC Comics characters for children. Some are better than others. Tiny Titans has an original art style, but relies heavily on knowledge of regular DC Comics continuity to get many of the jokes. The Shazam and Batman stories, though, are more accessible to a wide audience, though the Shazam story is more of a prologue to a story not yet published than a full comic in its own. –DC Comics
It’s Free

Del Rey Showcase: A variety of licensed titles are featured here, with the headliner featuring a preview of the upcoming comics adaptation of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel. That’s going to be the big draw here, for however much of a draw a joke that’s probably been going on a little too long is, which is why it’s a shame the only zombie action here takes up about two pages, the rest being devoted to Jane Austen’s arch dialogue with zombie references tossed in. –Del Rey
It’s Free

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom/Magnus: Robot Fighter: There’s a certain appeal to the simplicity of these two retro-characters being updated, although in a ham-fisted way. The Doctor Solar story is heavy on the self-referential dialogue, but Magnus features a straight-forward beat-down on robots that is far more enjoyable. –Dark Horse Comics
It’s Free

Fame/Puppy Sister: The draw here is probably going to be the preview of Bluewater’s new biographical comic about pop sensation Lady Gaga, and not the all-ages story by S.E. Hinton about a boy and his dog. The Hinton comic is unremarkable, while the Lady Gaga comic is somewhat funny, with a man-child lead obsessed with the singer used as a narrative device, though whether or not that’s intended to be funny is probably up to argument. If you’ve encountered any of BlueWater’s comics before, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the production values on this offering are up to their usual standard. –Bluewater Comics
Leave It

Fearless Dawn/Asylum Press Sampler: History has shown that anthology titles like this tend to be the most disappointing efforts to be found on Free Comic Book Day. There are a couple of pieces here with decent art, but most of it is ugly and muddy, and the stories, those that are complete enough to even form an opinion on, are formulaic. The entire package feels like a throw-back to the ugly art-driven comics of the 90s. -Asylum Press
Leave It

Fractured Fables: Several stories sampled from Image’s anthology of irreverent takes on fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Some are good, some are…not. As a novelty item or introduction to the artists featured it actually mostly succeeds, as there’s a strong variety of art and humor styles. –Image Comics
It’s Free

Fraggle Rock/Mouse Guard: A flip-book pairing comics based on the Muppet-starring televison program with David Petersen’s lushly illustrated fantasy series. Both books are good, though Fraggle Rock is a bit heavy-handed with the moral lessons. The pairing of the two feels incongruous, as neither is very similar to the other in artistic style or tone. –Archaia
Get It

G.I. Joe #155 1/2: This is a good example of the “narrowcasting” problem that some publishers have; this comic is a continuation of a storyline from a comic that was cancelled in 1994, with the same writer at the helm. As such, it requires a fairly thorough understanding of not only the ’80s toy property, but of the spin-off Marvel comic as well. While there are plenty of existing comic book fans and buyers who possess that kind of knowledge, there are 52 weeks of comics put out every year that pander to them. It would be nice to see more of an effort from a premier publisher like IDW to reach beyond the usual fan-base. -IDW
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Green Hornet: Five excerpts from five different Green Hornet comics. That would be five comics about a character best known for appearing in a cross-over episode of the Adam West Batman television series. If any of the comics were particularly good, that would be one thing, but there’s nothing particularly exciting or intersting about any of them. –Dynamite
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Incorruptible/Irredeemable: Both titles here are linked, taking place in the same super-hero storyline where a hero has gone bad and killed all of the other super-heroes. The introduction to this story takes place in Irredeemable, and is somewhat hampered by a lack of back-story to these characters. This makes the flip side of the story in Incorruptible a little easier to follow, though. Both stories have good art, but I have to give the edge to Incorruptible. The “hero goes bad” story, especially in the realm of super-hero comics, has become something of a cliché. How many anti-heroes does the world need? By contrast, the story of a villain trying to redeem himself and do good is fairly novel, which makes Incorruptible somewhat more compelling. –Boom! Studios
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Iron Man/Nova: A fun little stand-alone comic for kids, featuring two super-heroes teaming up with a shape-shifting ape to defeat a super-villain and his ape henchmen. The dialogue suffers a bit from the “talk down” syndrome that too many kids comics have, but the art is nice and there’s a lot of action. There’s a back-up gag-strip featuring art in the style of the super-deformed “Super Hero Squad” figurines that is also a pleasant surprise. -Marvel Comics
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Iron Man/Thor: As a general rule, I’m not the target audience for a comic like this. I’m not interested in Iron Man unless he’s played by Robert Downey Jr., or Thor unless he’s a frog or space-horse (yes, those are both things that happened; Marvel comics were much weirder in the ’80s). And sadly, that remains true here. There’s a bit of a plot here about Randians using technology stolen from Tony Stark to “go Galt” on the Moon, but most of the book is devoted to Iron Man and Thor standing around talking to people before we get a couple of pages of them hitting robots. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity, and what could have been an exciting read instead exemplifies some of the dullest cliches of contemporary super-hero stories. -Marvel Comics
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Library of American Comics: Comic strip fans will appreciate this, as it consists of several pages from a number of existing and forthcoming volumes in IDW’s high-quality reprints of classic comic strips. There’s likely to be some interest in the book from the general public as well, as many of the strips featured either no longer exist or are unrecognizable from their earliest incarnations. However, while Annie, Bloom County and Dick Tracy are featured on the cover, they are only present inside the book in ads. Anyone won over by one of the strips reprinted here is probably in for some sticker shock when they go to buy the actual book, as IDW’s average price is around the $40 mark. That’s quite a change from the $16 Dilbert collections people outside of the existing comics fanbase are used to. -IDW
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Love and Capes #13: A sitcom-style comedy series about a woman married to a super-hero. Despite the way the premise sounds, it’s actually funny, with surprisingly relatable characters. The super-heroics are presented as a quirk of the relationship, which is a nice inversion of the standard formula for super-hero romance stories. –Maerkle Press
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The Oni Press Free For All #1: An anthology title of black-and-white, all-ages comics available in graphic novel format from Oni Press. Overall the material is of high quality, but it should be of particular attention as it is all new material. These aren’t licensed comics or characters who were first published when your grand-parents were children. While that may be a road-block for as many kids as it’s a selling point for, the material is all excellent. –Oni Press
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The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics: While there are some comic-style pages in this, this is not a comic book. It’s a series of essays about the joys of collecting comics as an investment, punctuated by ads for collecting supplies. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what a Free Comic Book Day book is supposed to be. –Gemstone Publishing
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Owly and Friends: A good book for younger kids, these three stories, two of them wordless, tell simple and sweet stories. In fact, they’re probably a little too sweet for most readers, but just about right for the toddler set. The art ranges wildly in quality, but even the scribble-like drawings of James Kolchaka’s “Little Boo” fits the tone of the material. –Top Shelf Productions
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Radical FCBD 2010: Another anthology title, with snippets of stories that are probably just a little too short to give readers a fair assesment as to whether or not they’re interested in anything Radical has to offer. The quality of the stories, both in terms of art and writing, ranges wildly, and the overall tone is more on the mature side, with dark, muddy colors predominating in violent stories. -Radical Comics
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Shrek/Penguins of Madagascar: The art on this flip-book featuring characters from Dreamworks animated films isn’t bad, but the stories are neither funny nor inventive. Much like the source material, in that regard. Kids will probably enjoy them, if they enjoy the films they are based on, but there is much better material out there this year for them. –Ape Entertainment
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The Sixth Gun #1: Launching a new series by giving away the first issue on Free Comic Book Day has been a fairly succesful technique in the past for publishers, but it helps if the material is actually good and compelling to start with. This horror-western series by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt is both, fortunately. Hurtt’s artwork is stylized and appropriate to the genre, while Bunn’s story teases out just enough information to keep you engaged without resorting to excessive exposition. –Oni Press
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Sonic the Hedgehog: The Sonic the Hedgehog comics have, amazingly, lasted for more than 200 issues because of their appeal to children and, well, furries. That doesn’t mean that they’re particularly readable, though, and as this brief recap, punctuated by the occasional fight scene demonstrates, the series has enough of a complicated and convoluted history to make even an X-Man fan say “this is a little too hard to follow.” The art is appealingly cartoony, though, and it’s the sort of barely possessing a coherent narrative fight comic that little kids seem to enjoy. -Archie Comics
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Storm Lion: The lead feature here is an impenetrable science-fiction story that reads, in all honesty, like bad Robotech fan-fiction. The rest of it is ads, some of which appear to be for comics that are, presumably, going to be released by this publisher. It’s hard to tell, the art and text is that hard to deciper. –Storm Lion Publishing
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The Stuff of Legend/Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: A flip-book with two wildly different books. Cassandara Clare’s Title is Too Long is a teen-centric magic/vampire series and is about what you would expect. The Stuff of Legend is a beautiful fantasy series about toys that come to life and try to save the boy who owns them from the Bogeyman. It was one of the best books offered in last year’s assortment of Free Comic Book Day books, and it’s nice to see it again. Even if a snippet of the middle of the story is less useful an introduction than the first issue was. –Th3rd World Studios
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The Tick: A reprinting of the first issue of The Tick comic from 1986, though the character is probably better known now for an animated series and live-action sitcom based on the character. Creator Ben Edlund gives the book a mix between surreal word-play and slapstick violence, though the over-reliance on super-hero parody is probably going to come as a surprise to those familiar with the character primarily through television. –New England Comics Press
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Toy Story: My personal suspicion is that Toy Story as a property appeals more to people who were kids fifteen years ago, when the first film came out, than to kids today. (To be honest, even in 1995 the film’s themes seemed to be aimed more at aging parents than hyper-active children. Or maybe it’s just that they hired Randy Newman to do the songs.) All that aside, though, the plot of this comic largely rehashes the first film, with Woody trying to explain to Buzz that he’s only a toy. The twist here is that the events take place sometime after the first film, so Buzz is also around to try to talk sense into Buzz, leading to some half-clever Buzz on Buzz arguing. –Boom! Kids
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War of the Superman #0: While there’s a little bit of super-hero action to keep the reader entertained, this book really sums up a lot of the problems with super-hero comics these days. It’s the first part of a cross-over that continues on from another cross-over, and the story is so deeply rooted in the last two years’ worth of Superman stories, that unless you’ve been following all the involved titles for that time, there’s nothing here to give you a reason to care about this story. Even as a primer for the current state of the Superman comics it fails to deliver much useful information, opting instead for pin-ups that give only a rough outline of events. –DC Comics
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Weathercraft and Other Unusual Tales: One of my most frequent complaints about how comic book publishers choose to participate in Free Comic Book Day is their tendency to spotlight material that is largely inaccessible to people unfamiliar with the comics industry. Jim Woodring’s surreal comics are exceedingly well drawn and reward deep and careful reading, despite the fact that they’re mostly wordless. At any other time, I’d probably be applauding Fantagraphics for giving such intellectually challenging material away for free to potential readers. But not for Free Comic Book Day. It’s entirely likely that Woodring is just too plain old weird for a general audience expecting free Spider-Man and Batman comics for their kids. –Fantagraphics Books
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Worlds of Aspen 2010: It’s genuinely difficult to tell what in here is meant to be part of a story, what’s a pin-up, and what’s an ad. It’s all just a strange amalgam of pictures of women in revealing outfits, standing around posing. –Aspen
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Yow!: A collection of fantastic John Stanley stories for kids. They’re funny, innocent and have beautiful artwork. If there is a drawback, it’s that the stylized, monochrome cover and unretouched interiors seem designed to appeal more to adult collectors of prestige hard-cover collections, and not kids. –Drawn and Quarterly
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Great Pages In Comic Book History: Marvel Boy #4

Marvel Boy #4, p. 5. By Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Avalon Studios, Matt Milla, Richard Starkings & Wes Abbott.

Marvel Boy #4 features what is probably a more well known sequence, just a few pages after this one. Marvel Boy and Oubliette chase each other up a building in a phenomenal two pages made up of 12 Panel Grids. It’s truly fantastic, no doubt, but something about Page 5 resonates just a little bit more with me.

First of all, you’ve got the first two panels, which are just a textbook example of fantastic action sequential storytelling. Jones knows precisely where to place Marvel Boy in the frame in both panels to convey the perfect and proper level of momentum. I could just go back and forth between those two panels for a few minutes, and just study them.

Artist J.G. Jones also does some amazing things with the subway flare that makes Oubliette’s position, slamming out of a subway on a motorcycle (RIGHT?!?), so dynamic.

Avalon Studios and Mr. Milla also take a fantastic little chance in panel two with the color shift. I’m not a hundred percent sure what exactly in that Subway Station is causing it, nor do I really care. Green is certainly a predominant color throughout the series. Marvel Boy’s only surviving pal, Plex, is a green blob, his own costume is mostly green, there’s a lot of green all around. By bathing the whole panel in the color, it almost gives at a kind of strobe effect, as if an alternative to the Impact Burst you might find at that moment in the panel of a more traditional comic.

And then the last two tiers give us that great tumble and final pose that’s not just static, not a moment of Ex taking a breather, but one where she immediately fires at Marvel Boy.

There’s not a moment of pause in the action on the entire page.

Also of note, this issue is lettered in one of my favorite Comicraft fonts, Cutthroat. I first fell in love with it in the pages of Grant’s New X-Men, before that painful edict was handed down, and lowercase letters joined uppercase letters in a horrifying and completely un-comic-book-like combination.

So congratulations Page 5 of Marvel Boy #4. You are officially one of the Great Pages In Comics History.

Anna Reads Manga: The Works of Fumi Yoshinaga

Fumi Yoshinaga is probably the most critically acclaimed female manga artist among the pool of creators that have had their works translated in the US. She’s won many awards in Japan for her work and has been nominated for Eisner Awards. Her series frequently end up on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists. She got her start in shonen ai and yaoi manga, but her best works transcend the limitations and storytelling conventions usually found in these genres.

Today we’ll take a look at her most accessible work. There’s something in her work for almost everyone, if you are the type of person who enjoys insightful portrayals of family relationships, intricately detailed alternative history, yummy cake, or touching slice of life high school stories.

As a bonus, I’m also going to giving away a copy of Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters. Just leave a comment at the end of this post and I’ll select a random winner next week.

All My Darling Daughters

This single volume would be a great first pick for anyone interested in sampling Fumi Yoshinaga’s work. Some manga anthology collections are just collections of back-up stories that are only loosely linked thematically, but this manga is extremely cohesive. All My Darling Daughters focuses on the lives of women at varying stages of their lives, and it is one of those works that I can see myself rereading for years to come.

The first story introduces Yukiko, a career woman who still lives with her mother. Yukiko’s life takes a dramatic turn when her mother Mari decides that she’s going to live her life the way she wants to after recovering from cancer. Mari marries an actor three years younger than her daughter and brings him home. Yukiko views her new “dad” with an incredible amount of suspicion, and the situation increases the tension between Yukiko and Mari. Yukiko ends up moving out to live with her boyfriend and starts a new chapter in her own life. The relationship between Yukiko and Mari is sometimes sarcastic and acerbic but there is obviously a lot of caring between them.

The middle story in the collection is about Sayako, a woman who takes her grandfather’s advice “not to discriminate among people” to an extreme. Sayako is unselfish to a degree that might not be normal. She decides to go on arranged marriage meetings in order to find a husband, and the person who might be perfect for her is totally unexpected. Yukiko is a framing device for an additional story as she thinks about some of her old friends from school and their agreement to go to work in order to advance the cause of women’s rights. Some of their lives didn’t turn out the way they predicted in high school. The final story in the collection returns to Yukiko and Mari, as Yukiko learns some of the ways her grandmother influenced her mother.

I enjoyed the ways Yoshinaga portrayed her characters’ lives. While there is humor present, her women firmly live in the real world. Endings aren’t always happy and there is sometimes a sense of loss that lingers even when to all outward appearances everything looks fine. I always like Yoshinaga’s art because she has a such a distinct style. She uses a thin line in her drawings that is deceptively loose, giving some of her illustrations the immediacy of a sketchbook.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers

Ooku takes place in an alternate universe during the Edo period, where a mysterious disease has wiped out most of the male population. Gender roles have reversed with women taking on men’s work, while the remaining men are protected, pampered, and cosseted due to their increasingly rare and important sperm. A new shogun takes over and a young man enters service in her harem, aka The Inner Chambers.

Yunoshin is from an impoverished samurai family, and he’s been educated in the art of fencing. He announces his intention to enter the Ooku, saying that he’ll send his allowance home so his sister can use the money to find a husband. Yunoshin gives up on his love for his childhood friend and enters the small world of the Inner Chambers, a society comprised of men devoted to decadence and an elaborate social hierarchy that proves to be complex for a newcomer to navigate.

When the new shogun takes command the pampered men of the inner chamber are shocked by her radically different ideas. Yoshimune is the third child of a noble family that lived in a far province. She regards the Ooku as an irresponsible drain on the country’s treasury. When a lady-in-waiting dresses her in an elaborate gown Yoshimune fires her, saying “At a time when the shogunate’s coffers are near empty, it strikes me as sheer folly for one who is charged with ruling the nation and rebuilding its finances to pad around dressed in such opulence. ‘Tis something only a lunatic would do.”

Some of the nicest moments in Ooku occur when Yoshimune and her right hand woman Kano meet to talk about strategy and share some laughter in the gilded palace. Yoshimune has the self awareness and curiosity to regard some of the customs of the shogun’s office with suspicion. Why must she meet foreign visitors by wearing male clothing and sitting behind a screen? While the plot of Ooku might seem to be inching forward at a leisurely pace, Yoshinaga’s fascinating alternate world and facility with character development ensures that the series is entertaining while it explores Japan and gender roles.

Antique Bakery

Antique Bakery is a little shop run by the resolutely heterosexual Tachibana, the “fatally charming” gay pastry chef Ono, and a retired boxer turned apprentice baker named Eiji. Tachibana is aided by his clumsy sidekick Chikage. The four men each have their own reasons for taking refuge in a world filled with pastries and antique china teacups. The scruffy Tachibana has an encyclopedic knowledge of the cakes he serves and a repressed childhood tragedy in his past. When Ono and Tachibana were in high school together, Ono confessed his love for Tachibana and was promptly rejected. Years later they work together.

This is probably my favorite series by Yoshinaga as it was the first work of hers that I read. The four volumes meander a bit, alternating between portraying the lives of the people that work at Antique Bakery and the customers, but the power of dessert draws the lives of different people together, ranging from joyful episodes to the tragic. Yoshinaga plays with genre conventions in the stories she tells. Sometimes childhood friends will reconnect over a slice of cake, but these simple stories are contrasted with the darker episodes that flash back to Tachibana’s past. It is very difficult to read this manga without feeling hungry, because Yoshinaga lovingly illustrates each variety of cake the bakery serves. Sometimes I felt there was a story hidden in a single panel showing customers of the shop, just because of the way Yoshinaga captures a moment as an elderly couple orders cream puffs, or a man orders cake with a girl standing silently in the background. And as a bonus some of the earlier editions of the manga feature scratch-n-sniff covers!

Flower of Life

Flower of Life uses a series of vignettes to showcase different aspects of friendship in high school. Hanazono is enrolling in school a month late, and he’s a year older than his new classmates. He spent the past year recovering from leukemia. Hanazono quickly makes friends with the roly-poly Mikuni but he’s annoyed by Mikuni’s other friend, an otaku named Majima who delights in lecturing people about his favorite anime and manga characters.

Yoshinaga is great at portraying the little details that define character. Mikuni notices Majima slamming manga down at his desk, Hanazono’s lunches evolve as his sister tries to fix him just the right meal, and his observation of an exchange between teachers leads to the revelation that they are having an affair. Hanazono’s boisterous outspoken personality meshes well with Mikuni’s more retiring nature, and it is nice to see their friendship develop as they bond over the idea of creating their own manga. Hanazono’s family life is entertaining, as his sister reminds him that she’s his savior for giving him her bone marrow and he calls her an old hag when she’s trying to coerce him into running errands for her. So many manga series set in high school end up incorporating story lines where there’s bullying taking place or a sub group of students is really mean. It is refreshing to read a manga set in high school where everyone is generally nice, working through the typical misunderstandings of teenagers while being supportive of each other.

Many of the students are in a manga club, so Flower of Life sometimes takes a detour into the metatextual, where the characters comment about manga conventions and some of the stereotypical storylines found in different types of manga. Yoshinaga’s art will sometimes parody these genres, slipping into an overdone shoujo or shonen style as her characters imagine their own stories. These detours usually feel like fun in-jokes due to Yoshinaga’s sense of humor and the way she portrays Majima’s rants, but this aspect of the series isn’t as accessible to a new reader of manga. While most of the series is light and happy, there’s a shift in tone in the fourth volume as the characters approach the end of their school year. Overall, Flower of Life is Yoshinaga’s most cheerful and whimsical series, and will be fun to read for anyone who can catch its references.

Great Pages In Comic Book History: The Punisher #13

In what will be an ongoing feature on this site, I’m going to take a rather in depth look at some of my favorite and most inspirational individual pages throughout the great pantheon of my lazily-strewn-about-my-office comics collection.

From The Punisher #13 by Rick Remender,  Tony Moore, Mike Hawthorne,  Dan Brown, and Joe Caramagna

In a medium that gets its fair share of bad raps, the latest storyline in The Punisher gets its own volatile breed of bad rapsterism from many fans.  Write Rick Remender had the audacity to kill Frank Castle, gritty urban vigilante, and turn him into a Frankenstein’s Monster.  Remender had been tasked with integrating Castle into the Marvel Universe proper, which is the same where a family of weirdos has the biggest building in the city and keeps like four or five black holes in its sub-basement. This particular issue has Frank defending an underground city of monsters from an elite team of samurai monster killers.

I chose this page for reasons that should probably be pretty obvious.  What probably catches the eye first is the fantastic line art of Tony Moore and Mike Hawthorne.  Detailed, expressive, and in no way afraid to be completely and luxuriously exaggerated, it’s a fantastic style.  And Dan Brown’s colors simply enhance it.  Dig a little deeper, though (as I am frequently wont to do), and you notice the simple but wildly effective rhythm of the panel to panel storytelling.  Each image is a perfect segment of an even, 4/4 beat of action and sound (aided by the often overlooked art of lettering, here by Joe Caramagna). Thus, Remender is almost unfairly aided in the delivery of this incredibly stark but snappy bon mot from Frank Castle.

Yes, there’s a huge explosion on the following page, and yes, it is awesome.  But I like to linger on this one sequence, this one moment.  Frozen in amber, the joke can often carry as much weight, or even more, than the punchline itself.

And those are just a few of the reasons why these four panels, in sequence, form one of the Great Pages In Comic Book History.

Comics Review: Johnny Ryan’s PRISON PIT: BOOK ONE

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I don’t know much about Johnny Ryan other than a handful of his short strips passed onto me by friends with an “oh, man, look at this,” so when I got the chance to read his newest full-length story, Prison Pit: Book One, I leapt at it.

I’m glad I did, because it gave me the chance to read a story about a brutal alien protagonist dropped onto a prison planet inhabited by strange plants, hideous creatures, and a gang of inmates even more brutal and ridiculous than the lead.

We’re never shown why the protagonist ends up on the planet. He’s unceremoniously dropped, along with one of his captors, through a hole in a spaceship, and that’s all we know. The plot, much like a video game, is “fight this guy, fight another guy, fight three guys and, finally, fight a huge guy who is tougher than the others combined.”

Amazingly, I was sucked in by the whole enterprise, laughing and groaning and shaking my head. The escalation of violence includes the protagonist chopping someone’s head off with the ax-adorned hand of a third character. As far as gross goes, a drooling, drug-addled slug is enough on its own, but Ryan carries the nasty creature to a surprisingly logical conclusion.

Even more amazingly, particularly to me, it left me thinking about why I enjoyed it so much and why I enjoy the other books, movies, and shows I enjoy. Most would dismiss the book as juvenile and amateurish, either due to Ryan’s reputation or a cursory flip through the book itself, but I was grabbed, and quite unexpectedly.

Mostly it boils down to taking a story’s own internal logic and running with it, which I admire. Ryan makes sure his super bad-ass protagonist doesn’t make it out unscathed and, much like Inglourious Basterds, you’re not sure just how happy the ending is going to be. (The “Book One” appended to the title offers some small clue in this instance.)

I’ve never had much use for indie comics, finding most of them live up to the stereotype of ugly art and self-indulgence. I prefer my fantasies a little more fantastical and a little less “I’m going to tell you about all the chicks I whack it to” accompanied by amateurish art.

But this book isn’t as amateurish as I may have thought. It’s scarcely what I would call “elegant in its simplicity” but with subject matter like this photo-realistic art and emotional weight aren’t called for. These are ugly characters in a gross situation, and Prison Pit treats them with all the indulgence and nastiness needed.